The decline of Nicholas Biwott’s political power

After Kanu was defeated by the National Rainbow Alliance Coalition (Narc) in the 2002 polls, Nicholas Biwott challenged Uhuru Kenyatta for the leadership of the independence party.

It is a fight that split Kanu into two factions and accelerated the rapid decline of its political fortunes.

In 2004, while he was the Keiyo South MP, Mr Biwott, who died Tuesday aged 77, publicly blamed Mr Kenyatta for Kanu’s dismal performance in the 2002 polls.

He claimed that had he not been hand-picked by President Moi, the party might have got a stronger presidential candidate through a democratic process. 


He said Mr Kenyatta, who was the leader of the opposition in Parliament and the acting Kanu chairman, had been “sneaked” into the party by Mr Moi. 

Mr Biwott’s bold statement put him at loggerheads with the then president, who vigorously campaigned against him.

While meeting a Kanu delegation at his Maji Mazuri Farm in Uasin Gishu County at the height of campaigns for Kanu elections in 2004, Moi asked on a light note, “Nani hapa anajua kwa Biwott?” (Who amongst you knows Biwott’s home?). 

Mr Moi was alluding to Mr Biwott’s legendary mysterious nature that, for example, prompted him to change cars several times each day, allegedly to throw off imagined enemies who might have been trailing him with the intention of harming him. Such a closed mystery man, Moi said, should never be allowed to head the party.

During the Kanu elections on January 31, 2005, Mr Kenyatta trounced him to the chairmanship of the party by garnering 2,980 of the party’s delegate votes against Mr Biwott’s 622. William Ruto, then the MP for Eldoret North, was elected the secretary-general. 

However, Mr Biwott felt that victory had been stolen from him. As the vote counting was going on at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, he walked out, protesting that outgoing secretary-general Julius Sunkuli and returning officer John Shilavula were biased. He rejected the election results and led a splinter wing of the party called New Kanu.

As the chairman of Kanu, Mr Kenyatta led the party into a close working relationship with the Liberal Democratic Party, the rebellious wing of the Narc coalition whose leading lights were Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.


Just a few months to the 2002 polls, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka led a massive walkout from Kanu in protest of Mr Moi’s decision to hand-pick Mr Kenyatta as his successor.

It is widely believed that the walkout by Mr Odinga and his brigade doomed Mr Moi’s “Uhuru project” and Mr Kenyatta never forgave them for it.  

But in one of the unlikeliest partnerships in Kenya’s political history, Kanu and LDP joined forces to defeat the government’s draft Constitution in the November 2005 referendum.

Following the referendum defeat, President Mwai Kibaki sacked the rebellious ministers in his Cabinet, among them Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka and William Ntimama.

Capitalising on their referendum euphoria, the rebels turned their victory into a mass movement, which later transformed into the Orange Democratic Movement party.

However, Mr Moi, who had opposed the draft Constitution, was stridently opposed to the formation of ODM, as he saw it as a danger to Kanu’s dominance. He and Mr Biwott opposed Mr Kenyatta’s close working relationship with the ODM rebels.

In reality, Mr Kenyatta was facing a tricky situation. Most Kanu MPs from its base in Kalenjinland had gravitated towards Mr Odinga, whom they saw as the best person to take on President Kibaki during the 2007 General Election.


In November 2006, Mr Moi publicly endorsed Mr Biwott as chairman of Kanu against Mr Kenyatta. Mr Biwott then staged a coup against Mr Kenyatta and installed himself as the party’s chairman, a move thwarted by a court.

In the 2007 General Election, Mr Biwott was defeated by little-known Jackson Kiptanui of ODM for the Keiyo South parliamentary seat, thus ending his 28 years in Parliament. After failing to wrest control of Kanu, he took over the National Vision Party in December 2008. 

He was defeated in his quest to become the first senator of Elgeyo-Marakwet County in the 2013 polls by lawyer Kipchumba Murkomen.

During campaigns for those elections, he supported Musalia Mudavadi of the United Democratic Forum for the presidency against Mr Kenyatta. However, last year he said his party would support President Kenyatta in next month’s elections.

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